Message From Sunshine Coast Lightning CEO Danielle Smith

From the Sunshine Coast Lightning CEO Danielle Smith at the 2020 Awards Night:

Well 2020, where do we even begin…

We reflect on our fourth – and very unique season – and recognise all the special people connected with our Club.

What a year it has been – at one stage not even knowing if a season would take place. Like so many organisations, we faced some very challenging times particularly throughout the COVID lockdown period.

Our athletes, who have chosen to play a team sport for a reason, were tested by training on their own for a long stretch of time. Kylee Byrne faced an initiation to Head Coach that no one could ever prepare for, and everyone at our Club, both players and staff, had to make some big personal financial sacrifices to ensure the survival of our Club.

What has shone through is the quality of our people, both within the organisation and those around the Club. We are so fortunate to have such passionate and committed people – this includes our Partners and our Members and fans, who kept supporting us unconditionally. For that we are truly grateful. On behalf of us all at the Club, we thank you very much.

Not even a worldwide pandemic could stop our passionate and dedicated people for ensuring the season would take place in 2020. It was a momentous effort by Netball Australia, the Super Netball league and all the clubs to deliver a full season.

There was a huge amount of work behind the scenes to make it all happen – so many zoom meetings full of discussion, a bit of frustration and a lot of professional debate. But we are very grateful to the Queensland Government in particular who provided the funding to enable six interstate teams, SNL staff, umpires, officials and broadcasters to relocate – some for over three months – to ensure the season would go ahead.

Not only were people forced to leave their family at home but many also sacrificed other jobs and forms of income and study to make this season a success.

At Lightning we were privileged to remain on the Sunshine Coast but the Queensland hub provided other challenges and opportunities. The condensed season, played over a nine week period, compared to the usual 14 weeks, meant a heavy schedule of both weekend and mid-week matches.

Our commercial team delivered 19 matches at USC Stadium over a 10 week period, including an extra intense period where we delivered six matches in two weeks. Our usual season is seven games over 14 weeks.

It was also a fantastic collaborative effort by our Lightning and USC staff, along with staff from the SSN, opposition clubs, the Sunshine Coast Council, our broadcasters Nine, our sports presentation partner BMA, Rip City Basketball on the bar, Deliciously Clean Eats and of course, our amazing volunteers.

Our friendly state rivals from Netball Queensland the Firebirds also took on a huge load of hosting duties, delivering 34 matches at Nissan Arena.

Apart from all the matches and short turnarounds we had to manage those additional COVID restrictions, including a reduced crowd of 50% capacity and social distancing measures.

Our Members and fans did a tremendous job following all the rules which enabled us to continue playing to crowds. And while you were reduced in numbers you were by no means reduced in voice.

The team loved hearing the roar of the Lightning crowd each time they stepped out on court.

For those unable to attend matches, as a sport, our broadcast viewership grew again this year with over five million people watching Channel 9 games throughout the year and positive growth across the Netball Live app and Telstra TV. We definitely felt that support from afar.

A massive thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of game day – you all did an outstanding job and the work didn’t go unnoticed. We have received so much positive feedback from our Members and fans as well as the other clubs who enjoyed their experience, despite being away from home.

Well, what a year it has been for Kylee Byrne – stepping into her first year of Head Coach and managing the impacts of a pandemic was definitely not in the plans but Kylee has done a tremendous job. She took great care of our players throughout the lockdown period, always ensuring their health and wellbeing took priority.

There were just a few extra things she managed this season, there were new rules, the two point super shot, rolling subs, the removal of bonus points and the short turnaround between matches. Meaning everything that would normally take place over six to seven days, like recovery, review and analysis, medical, gym and court sessions all had to take place within a couple of days. Despite all of this, Kylee coached our team into second place on the ladder and into our fourth consecutive finals series and I am proud to say Lightning is the only SSN team to achieve this feat.

Whilst we fell short on Preliminary Final day, there is so much to celebrate and be proud of.

We retained our full squad of 10 players from 2019 and the condensed season also enabled us to increase our squad to 12. This gave our training partners Binnian Hunt, Ashlee Unie and Annabelle Lawrie a great opportunity and they all made their SSN debuts with Lightning, while Sienna Allen was also afforded additional learning opportunities. All great talents who showed plenty of promise for the future!

We also had some very special news later in the season when Steph Wood and Cara Koenen were announced as Australian Diamond squad members. A big credit to Steph who worked really hard to rehabilitate from her knee injury that kept her from last year’s Constellation Cup, and a strong series of performances this season saw her regain her spot in the Diamonds.

We were thrilled for Cara with her debut selection, Cara is one of our foundation players joining us as our youngest player in 2017. She has worked incredibly hard to develop her game, serving an apprenticeship under Caitlin Bassett and going on to assert herself as a strong and confident goal shooter.

Congratulations Binni, Ash, Annie, Steph and Cara and the whole team on a fantastic season!

On the flip side, unfortunately we are going to be losing some fantastic players, including captain Laura Langman who will officially step away from netball after a notable career spanning 18 seasons, Jacqui Russell who is retiring after a stellar career and Annika Lee-Jones who will explore some other opportunities to build on her two years with us. For now I just want to say a massive thanks to the two of you to all you contributed to Lightning and wish you all the best on your next adventures.

Of course we are incredibly fortunate to have a stable family of well respected corporate partners, anchored by our Principal Partners the Sunshine Coast Council and Downer who recently re-committed to the Club for a further two seasons.

Along with our Premium Partners Visit Sunshine Coast, Nissan, Hostplus, USC, Origin Energy, Avid Property Group, Springfree Trampoline, Game Clothing, TechnologyOne and HCF as well as a host of other team and media partners, each makes a huge contribution to our success.

Thank you once again for standing by Lightning in the toughest of times and then being able to reap the rewards of another successful season and a strong return on your investment.

I’d also like to thank our very supportive Board of Directors, Chairman Matt Tripp, Dave Donaghy, Helen Bartlett, Ruth Greenaway and secretary Simone Pearce. Also credit to our two outgoing Directors who retired from the Board during the year, Greg Hill and Bart Campbell. All put in a lot of voluntary work behind the scenes and provide great support to myself and the management team.

In closing, I’d like to once again say a huge thank you for your incredible support of Lightning. As a Club, community means so much to us and we’ve greatly missed being out in the community and on the Sunshine Coast this season.

We hope 2021 will allow us to mingle with our amazing Members and wider community whether it’s at game days, events or even out having a morning coffee. We say it a lot but we absolutely mean it, we could not do it without you.

See you all next year for Season 5 in hopefully more normal circumstances.

 Go Lightning!

Danielle Smith